Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Year A 2023 pentecost 2

Pentecost 2, 2023
Genesis 12:1-9
Psalm 33:1-12
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”  It’s from Hosea, part of a long rant against the sins of God’s people.  Hosea is a scary book, written at a specific time to a specific people.  So tread lightly.

But, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” is a very strange sentence in the first place.  Because mercy and sacrifice are not opposites.  You would expect, “I desire mercy, not vengeance.”  Or, “I desire sacrifice, not selfishness.”  But Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”

So, what does it mean, to set mercy opposed to sacrifice?  Well, I think it helps to look at how they both are about power.  Mercy is handed downward by the one in charge.  Your boss could fire you for something, or could have mercy on you and let you keep working for less than you deserve.  And, in a religious sense, sacrifice is handed upward by the less powerful.  The Levite priests offer sacrifices to God, in order to win God’s mercy.

So, imagine yourself as the one with all the power.  You could offer mercy, or you could demand sacrifice.  Let’s say you own a chain of restaurants.  As a good capitalist, you’d want the sacrifices, right?  You’d want people to work more hours for less money.  You’d want them to work weekends and pick up extra shifts.  Having employees who are willing to sacrifice is like the ideal situation!

What kind of a manager would desire mercy?  A manager who wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that!  You don’t feel like coming in today, Joe?  Yeah that’s cool, we all get tired sometimes.  You forgot to call in the order for all the produce for this week Sally?  That’s fine, could happen to anybody.

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.”  This is a hard teaching, and it certainly runs counter to how the world works, right?  Because we most certainly desire sacrifice over mercy.  Imagine a football coach who desires mercy over sacrifice?  Don’t push yourselves too hard getting ready for that Massillon McKinley game kids.  I mean, it’s just one game.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” said no successful coach ever.

Even though it runs counter to everything we believe about the world, God wants mercy rather than sacrifice.  So, what does that mean for us?  Well, in the simplest terms, when we are in a position to offer mercy we should do so.  And, it is more important to God that we offer mercy than it is that we make sacrifices to God.  Or, put another way, God gets more joy out of us being merciful to one another than anything else.  So let’s do that!

But enough of that.  Let’s back up to how this reading starts.  As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”  Follow me.  The gospel of Matthew is said to be written, or compiled by Matthew.  I mean, hence the name.  And here we are, in the ninth chapter of the book, and Matthew appears for the first time.  And turns out, he’s a tax collector!

I’ve told you about tax collectors before, but the Jewish people hated them.  Even more than some people hate 87,000 new IRS agents.  And the reason people hated tax collectors is because—not only were they working for the oppressive Roman occupiers, but—the way they made their money was essentially by overcharging their neighbors.  Like, you owe the foreign occupiers $1,000, but your bill is actually $2,000 so that I can line my own pockets.  They made a living by collecting for the invaders and overcharging on those collections.  So, you can see why Matthew waits nine chapters to mention what he did for a living.

Anyway, Jesus says “Follow me,” and Matthew does.  Now here’s the thing about this moment: What do you picture when you hear that?  Like Matthew just closes up his books and leaves his booth and starts following Jesus?  Like a baby duckling following her mom, right?  Okay Jesus, I’ll just be following you now, wherever it is you want me to go.

But here’s what’s weird about this story.  They end up going to Matthew’s house.  So Jesus says, “Follow me,” but he ends up following Matthew back to his house.  To follow Jesus seems to mean leading Jesus back to your own house.  To the place where you probably feel the most comfortable.  That’s certainly true for Matthew, who would likely be run out of any restaurant he walked into.  When everybody hates you, the safest place is probably inside your own home.

Now, some Christians will tell you that following Jesus means you have to prepare for a rugged survivalist journey.  Like, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you better expect to endure a daily spiritual triathlon against the evil powers of this world.  Standing up against Pride displays in retail stores, getting classic books banned from school libraries, refusing to drink watered-down beer because there’s rainbow on the can.  To these people, following Jesus demands sacrifice!  They are at war against the spiritual forces of darkness.  When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is calling them into battle.  Into sacrifice.

But Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Look at Matthew.  Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” and that means Jesus goes with Matthew to his own home.  To the place where Matthew feels most comfortable.  Based on the call of Matthew, following Jesus doesn’t mean you need to go somewhere new and uncomfortable.  Jesus says “Follow me,” and then joins us right where we are, just as we are.

Jesus tells Matthew to follow him, and then he meets Matthew at a meal.  This is perfect!  Because Jesus has called you to follow him and, guess what?  He meets you in a meal this morning.  Right here at this Altar.  Jesus says, this is my body, this is my blood.  Following Jesus means he joins us at this meal, just like he joined Matthew at a meal.

And today,  Jesus has called to Tyler and Mallory and said, “Follow me,” and he will meet them at this font, in the water and in the word.  They will begin their journey with Jesus just as you did, as part of God’s family in the Sacrament of Baptism, because Jesus meets them at this font.

Jesus says to each one of us, “Follow me,” and then meets us where we are, just as we are.  And Jesus walks beside us as we follow him on the pathway that leads to life, forgiveness, and the mercy that God so desires from us and for us.


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